Expert Advice

Six-Year-Old Too Affectionate?

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q
My six-year-old is very affectionate. Her teacher said my daughter needs to control her body because she's been hugging some of her classmates. The teacher said she was starting a tally system for my daughter so that she could learn to control herself. I don't see how my daughter's affectionate nature is inappropriate. Is hugging in school a no-no?
A
You imply that her teacher's concerns about your daughter's need "to control her body" were related only to her hugging other kids. Did her teacher tell you that your daughter's classmates were uncomfortable with your daughter's physical displays of affection? If she could cite many instances where kids expressed discomfort or an unwillingness to let your daughter hug them, then there would be a foundation for this teacher's concerns. If the other students aren't complaining, I certainly don't see what the teacher's problem would be with her occasionally hugging another classmate. You must consider, however, that this issue isn't just about whether hugging other kids is something your daughter enjoys. Kids must be mutually pleased with repeated displays of physical affection for the hugs to be deemed appropriate behavior.

I'd suggest bringing in the school's guidance counselor to talk with you and the teacher. Your daughter should not be made to feel bad because she likes to show her affection by hugging but she should also be made aware that not all kids like to be spontaneously hugged, even though she enjoys doing it. This is part of her social development and maturation. I'm sure that you, this teacher, and an understanding guidance counselor can come up with a better response to this situation than her teacher's check list.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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